When Simon and his team noticed that sports naturally created spaces to share the love of Jesus, they began connecting with their neighbours on the playing field.
OM’s sports ministry in one South East Asian country started in 2008 after a massive typhoon struck. Many lives were lost and many communities destroyed, which led Simon* to join OM to help with the relief efforts. Through the relief work, opportunities opened to serve the community through sports, and thus, sports ministry began.
“Despite the many challenges our country was going through, we would always find groups of young people playing sports in the playing fields,” shared Simon. “They were always ready and excited to attend our organised events. We quickly realised that through these events, we were able to have conversations about life and share our faith.”
Soon after, the team partnered with a group of Christian footballers from Brazil who travelled there for a short-term outreach. This event was not only welcomed by the community but also by the country’s Football Federation, as a few of the Brazilian footballers were very well known in the area too. “It was amazing to see that the national football federation approved for us to have this big football event, knowing that we were also sharing the gospel. Living in a Buddhist-majority country comes with a lot of opposition from the government and community to share the gospel and to be a Christian,” Simon noted.
Since then, Simon and his team have hosted different sporting events around the country and shared the love of Christ with those they meet. “After any of our sporting events, we discuss life lessons learnt through sports. The participants are very open to talk about life and hear our story. This allows us to share our life values that are biblically based, and that’s how we can slowly introduce our faith,” Simon explained. Regular sports ministry then becomes a key instrument to build trust in communities and foster relationships.
Gaining support for sports ministry
Despite seeing the impact of sports ministry, getting the local church to support Simon’s team can be a challenge. Simon explains that for many churches, it is difficult to understand the significance sports ministry has on making disciples. “They see it as just sports or children playing around and don’t take it seriously,” Simon said. “However, what they don’t see is that it’s an opportunity to get to know someone’s true character or personality through these activities. I’ve seen so many times how people open up and share personal things during our discussions that they wouldn’t normally share.”
When the sports ministry first started, two nominal believers attended the youth camp and at the end of the camp, recommitment their lives to Jesus. Since then, they have been active in sports ministry. Simon explained that his passion for using sports to reach out to others comes from the fact that it is very easy to initiate outdoor activities with young people and have fellowship. Since there are always groups of youth playing on the sports fields, Simon said that specifically inviting a community to an event is not exactly necessary. “We just have to go to the playing fields, and we’ll find people ready and excited to participate. I was also like them where I would spend a lot of my time on the field playing football,” shared Simon.
Church planting through sports
In 2019, the OM team began to focus on discipleship and church planting in 14 areas across the country with few or no known Jesus followers. This led to team members moving to each area to do follow-ups and discipleship with those interested in the good news of Christ. “Before, we would host a sporting outreach in one of these areas, share the gospel and then leave. When we came back, we couldn’t find anyone interested because there wasn’t an ongoing follow-up and building of relationships. Having someone live in each of these areas to build relationships and do continual follow-ups allows for us to more effectively share the gospel and make disciples,” explained Simon.
It requires patience and time to build credibility and standing in these least-reached areas; team members are sometimes not welcomed or trusted. Over time though, the team has seen small house groups of new believers started and people taking the steps to be baptised.
One of Simon’s team members moved to a specific area four years ago, where people regarded him warily as a newcomer. He persevered and continued hosting sporting events and living out his faith for all to see. The community began to accept him and even asked him to prepare a Christmas event for the area. With sports as a catalyst, a few people in the community have come to know Christ, been baptised and started a small group to continue growing in their faith.
The approval of one’s family also has a huge impact on whether someone becomes a believer or is baptised. In many Buddhist communities, Simon explained, identity lies within family, and choosing to be a follower of Jesus can mean choosing to give up the identity of your family. Simon noted that for many Buddhist believers, understanding Christianity can be a challenge as the Bible is seen as just a historical book. “They ask us why we believe in this book, and this allows us to engage with them about our faith,” said Simon.
According to Simon, sharing the gospel with their Buddhist neighbours takes a lot of intentionally invested time to explain one’s faith and live out one’s faith. “This is why sports ministry works so well in our community because sports allows us to take something that everyone loves and use it to share our life and introduce them to Jesus,” he said.
Please pray for the local church to support sports ministry and be involved. Pray God would continue to open doors in unreached areas and praise Him for the work He is doing there. Pray for more people to join the team in sharing the good news of Christ through sports, and pray for those on the sports fields, that they may know Him.